On a late April weekend in 1965, my parents piled their four kids into our 1962 red Plymouth Valiant and we took off on a day trip to Falmouth, Mass. Our dad liked to visit the Cape when we were kids; we’d visit the outer Cape beaches, Truro and Provincetown. I can see now that he and my mom were scoping out his old Yankee roots. It was their version of Ancestry. com. He was a member of the Mayflower Society, so perhaps he was drawn to places like Plymouth, and other various Cape Cod locations, trying to conjure up his old Yankee ancestors that went back to Joseph Jenckes, who was a cutler — a sword maker in London. We kids just tagged along and were moderately interested. However, on this trip to Falmouth my dad was on a mission because there was a boat and a guy that he was on a mission to see. The man was a sailor named Robert Manry from Cleveland, Ohio who was a copyeditor for a Cleveland paper who got it in his noggin to sail across the Atlantic Ocean by himself in a sailboat called Tinkerbelle. She was very small.
Tinkerbelle was 13-and-a-half feet long, and Manry planned to sail her from Falmouth, Mass. to Falmouth, Cornwall, England. Our dad led us down the dock in the harbor and we all got a chance to see the guy puttering around his craft and storing food and gear. I remembered that he was lean, and looked like a gangly sort, but what was most striking was that I saw how small his boat was. Manry took off from Falmouth a week later on 1 June, and he made landfall on 17 August. The crossing took 78 days, and there was tremendous fanfare in Cornwall that greeted the intrepid sailor, which apparently shocked and surprised him. I look back on this guy’s trip and can clearly see that he was a curiosity, and that he was very lucky on his trip crossing the pond. (I also saw my dad’s interest in this guy because of his Mayflower ancestry.) The solo sailor rode out a few gales of wind and had a rudder problem, but other than that his crossing was pretty uneventful. Robert Manry was a true sailor in the purest sense of the word.
That day our mom and dad took us to see this sailor left a powerful impression on me. In hindsight, because of decades of my own sailing experience, I think this guy was a special kind of crazy. Up to the time of seeing Marny’s boat I’d done some surfing, and a bit of dinghy sailing; however, seeing a guy messing around in his tricked out little boat really got my attention. I wanted in, and four years later I acquired my first sailboat. I didn’t own a car but I had a boat and my poor folks were perplexed. Here was their son cobbling together a college degree for short money on his own dime, and working part-time jobs all so he could sail a boat out on Narragansett Bay at every chance. (I actually ditched my college graduation and went sailing instead — priorities.) Needless to say, I was all in from that day our folks took us to Falmouth, and I’m all in still. My feeling about sailing is that it’s not an option for me to not sail. It’s probably baked into my DNA somewhere. It’s non-negotiable stuff. Although I thought that Manry’s crossing of the Atlantic as a fool’s errand, the idea of sailing around in a small and self-sufficient boat and taking some calculated risks was something that made perfect sense to me then, and now.
I’ve owned four boats over the past 40 years, and they all seemed to be the right boat to have at a particular time. My dream boat since seeing Manry’s rig in ’65 led me to desire a type of boat that was nimble and fast but with a few more creature comforts than Tinkerbelle, and it’s precisely the type of boat that I acquired. It is my belief that boats find us. Fifteen years ago, I’d made the decision to buy a sailboat in the 30-foot range and the very day I’d made that forthright decision, Reverie arrived in Allen Harbor at Quonset Point while I was leaving my current sailboat after going out to grab a book. As fate would have it, Reverie was for sale and I grabbed this boat because I knew I could single-hand her well into geezerhood. So, I gave my little brother my 26-foot sloop Celtic Legend, and so began a new chapter in sailing all over Narragansett Bay and around its islands. My brother and I both sailed the hell out of our boats, because our dad taught us that if you have stuff, you need to use it. (Dad gave us old school Yankee advice.)
After 15 years of sailing my 30-foot Ericson, which is a very tender — tippy — racer/cruiser design and a very physical boat to single-hand, it has become apparent that I need to be aware of my physical limitations. I turned 70 in March, so I’ve decided to clutch it back a little and work to cherry pick my sailing days so I don’t get beat up too badly. The bride was worried about me last October when I got whupped sailing back to Newport from the north end of Prudence. (See the column “Wind” in my archive.) It was a tough slog into 30-plus knots of southeast wind, and the boat was heeling at 35 degrees with the rail in the water for most of the sail to Newport. While sailing at that angle of heel, you’re using muscles you don’t know you have, and you must pay attention to your surroundings and sea state. It can be tiring.
Robert Manry and his little sailboat Tinkerbelle sent me on a lifelong passion to chase the wind, and I have no intention of stopping; however, I will be a bit more prudent in regard to my physical capabilities.